The Stanford women's hoops team is masterful at breaking its opponents' spirit early in a game. Arizona knows all about that. The No. 7 Cardinal (17-3, 10-1 Pacific 10 Conference) come to McKale Center for a rematch tomorrow, looking for a repeat performance that had the Wildcats trailing by as many as 47 in the second half of their Jan. 10 meeting in Maples Pavilion.
"We know that that was kind of one of those games," said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer of Arizona's poor play in Stanford's 84-62 win. "We know they're a much better team, and they've played real well since, so we're expecting a great matchup."
The Cardinal lost just three conference games last season en route to their third straight Pac-10 championship. But one of Stanford's losses was a 79-64 defeat at Arizona's hands in McKale - consecutive win No. 12 of the Wildcats' current 23-game home win streak.
VanDerveer says her team is up to the challenge.
"I think one of the reasons we've done well in the Pac-10 is because we've done well on the road," said the 18th-year Stanford head coach. "A home record doesn't help you during the game. You still have to do the right things.
"We're excited about playing. We're looking forward to the trip. We're working really hard to get ready."
The Cardinal have the ability to devastate their opponents with their outside shooting. They are fifth in the nation in made 3s per game (7.9) and sixth in 3-point percentage (39.3 percent). They converted 15 of 27 3s in their previous matchup with Arizona.
Stanford's top three 3-point shooters are more accurate than Arizona's best, including sophomore guard Krista Rappahahn, who shoots a modest 62 percent from beyond the arc.
"I think the key to offense is reading the defense, taking what the defense gives you," VanDerveer said. "We are a good shooting team, and I don't think that's a secret, but I think we're more than that, too."
As if that weren't enough, the Cardinal are No. 1 in the country in free throw percentage (81.8 percent). Their leading scorer, senior forward Nicole Powell, is a 90 percent free throw shooter.
But Powell does a lot more than shoot well from the line. Arguably the most versatile player in the country, she leads the Pac-10 in points (21.1) and rebounds (11.1) per game and is a 40 percent 3-point shooter.
Powell and the Cardinal will try to repeat what they did Jan. 10 and what Arizona State did Saturday night: foul out center Shawntinice Polk.
Arizona's second leading scorer and leader in rebounds and blocked shots, the 6-foot-5 Polk will again have a bulls-eye on her chest Thursday.
"Their team has a lot more than her, but she's such a big target that she's capable of posting some really big numbers," VanDerveer said. "She gets double and triple-teamed wherever she goes, and for good reason."
Polk, who grabbed 11 boards in last season's win over Stanford, has yet to pick up more than three fouls in a home Pac-10 game this season.
But the most imposing threat to the Cardinal could be Wildcat leading scorer Dee-Dee Wheeler, who scored 26 against Stanford in McKale last year and led Arizona with 19 points in the Jan. 10 game.
"She's an excellent player, great quickness. I think she fits into (UA head coach Joan Bonvicini's) style well," VanDerveer said. "She's as big a key to their team as Polkey. They have a great inside-out (game) and those two are the one-two punch, so to speak.
"Fortunately, we have some pretty quick players, too," VanDerveer added.